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January 13, 2009

5 Frequently Used / Abused SEO Link Building Techniques

Search engine optimization (SEO) embraces multiple facets to produce viable shifts in rankings for specific keywords for the website in question. One of those facets is link building (a metric that uses link popularity and the authority of the referral to dictate a pecking order).

We all know SEO and positioning are important, but what are some of the more common link building techniques people use to promote their websites and build website authority. We will briefly discuss 5 frequently used and abused techniques for building links below, with their respective pros and cons.

1. Site wide links – Site wide links are when another website adds you to a portion of their website that is duplicated throughout the entire site. Areas like the footer, in their navigation, on the sidebar or (blogroll) as it is commonly called. As a result, if the website gains trust, authority or page rank from Google, the site being linked to gets a boost in the SERPS (search engine result pages).

There is nothing wrong with getting links from people who genuinely like your site and wish to share it with others in this fashion. However, on the flip side, this technique can be abused rather easily and leave a questionably link profile particularly when the anchor text selected just happens to be something the target site wanted to rank for (such as their main keyword vs. the site name or brand). Like all things, moderation for building links is the key as well as diversity to create a balanced link profile.

Remember, SEO based on off page links alone are volatile, any change to the algorithm could devalue or suppress excessive noise from one site offering thousands of the same links from multiple pages with the same anchor text. Google and other search engines already have countermeasures in place for excessive over-linking, so once again, if is it within your control exercise moderation and do more than just acquire tons of links without backing them up with substance, traffic and user engagement.

2. Redirects – Regarding redirects the most frequently used for SEO is the 301 redirect. 301 redirects are implemented at the server level so that pages were deleted that no longer served their purpose could still pass rankings and authority to another page. Say for example you ran a promotion for 6 months and thousands of people linked to you as a result, well that page represents a great deal in the search engine result pages and can be used to elevate other pages in your site.

However, if you delete it, all ranking and authority for that page disappears, so from an SEO perspective a 301 redirect (permanently moved to the following address) is an excellent solution. Once again, done for the right reasons this is a benefit, however this technique if used with the wrong intentions can be abused to load a specific page up with an immense amount of link weight (which invariably impacts the search engine result pages) if the target page is optimized properly.

The con of this technique is (1) if others redirect spammy sites at your domain (known as Google bowling) or (2) if massive link bait campaigns (using emotional triggers to incite links from media, powerful blogs or editorial sources) are then redirected at the new “real page” the link bait was actually attracting links for. This can be a virtual source of unlimited links for those with enough creativity to embrace the medium. Is it ethical or is it just marketing?, it is not our place to say. The purpose was just to show how something designed for one purpose can easily serve another when ranking and keyword positioning is at stake.

3. Social Media – Social media is great for creating exposure, building RSS subscribers who are hip to identify with your core message. But many often use it only as a way to create backlinks to posts that have less than favorable appeal. It is a double-edged sword which implies to use it (to promote), but don’t use it the wrong way (to spam others with irreverent content). Etiquette is the only thing separating someone sharing something useful with others to plain and simple online noise and spam.

I suggest that you look for other ways to build links or, if you embrace social media that you do so respectfully, be a part of a community (don’t just look at it as a place to go and build links). Links all have different types of value, some are for ranking higher in search engines, and others are no-followed but can yield hundreds of visitors to your site.

Finding the right balance (and finding evangelists for your brand) are the ideal way to promote your content. Social media leaves an imprint which can be favorable or just essentially hike up your bounce rate (as hundreds or thousands of visitors dip in for one post and bounce back to other sites).

If used properly (from social media power users who have a following of thousands) with a specific message (that does not appear as an advertisement) social media can work effectively to expedite authority for your website. Once authority is gained, ranking for anything related to your topic is far easier, so it must be a part of the process rather than the objective.

4. Press Releases – Press releases are an effective way to draw a new audience from using the news/ angle of appeal that search engines are fond off. Sure, the results are not long-lasting, but if leveraged properly with the right message, they can create a viral effect and lead to other unique opportunities.

Our take on press releases is, they should only be used when something is worthy of press, but once again, anything that can be used for good reason, can also be abused online. Since most services no-follow the links, don’t expect the press release to feed your pages with link juice (so to speak).

On the contrary, it is the value of the visibility that press releases create that inclines others to pick up your story, link to your site or visit your site as a result to investigate your offer. Make sure you have something worth saying and appeal to those who will take action.

The basis of the web is content and copy, which means that driving traffic through whatever means you use will not yield fruitful results, unless the copy speaks to your target audience. I offer thanks to Brian Clark from CopyBlogger for reminding us that everything has its place, and SEO without appealing content is just noise.

Think from the perspective of benefits and features with a compelling call to action. Over time, you will be able to gauge if using press releases as a viable marketing strategy for building links is suitable for your marketing objectives or not.

5. Directories – Once the mecca of link building and link building services, directories have seen better days. In the past the main objective for a website was to be inducted into DMOZ (the open directory project), which was an indication of passing a stringent review process. That was in fact until directories were abused and starting charging hefty fees for inclusion (starting the paid link conundrum) and automating the addition of sites without sufficient review. As a result, Google and other search engines devalued their reputation and pulled their ability to impact the search engine result pages in such a dramatic fashion.

Granted all directories are not created equal, the problem with most is that they are strained for link flow and the minute amount that they pass on to your site is hardly worth the effort (due to long periods of deeper pages not being indexed).

In order for a link to aid your website, search engines must index the page that link is on, so, if your link is buried 5 folders away from the root folder for a site that has thousands of outbound links and a disproportionate amount of inbound links, chances are that link is a dud.

Just like punches in bunches, directories do add up and can produce a substantial impact on search engines as far as sculpting a link profile for your website. However for all of those minor league links, one heavyweight with trust coming from a website that already has an affinity with the market or niche you are trying to rank for is worth its weight in gold in the long-run.

Quality directories (that pass rank and authority) still exist, you just have to know what to look for (like crawl rate, age of the domain, number of inbound links to that page and ensuring the links are capped on that page with no more than 40 outbound links).

While this list could most definitely go indefinitely highlighting the pros and cons of link building, the take away is quite simple. Understand your ranking objectives enough to know what the tipping point will require.

If your competition has used all of the methods above to create a substantial position, there is no guarantee that those same methods will work for you today. Ranking algorithms are constantly shifting in favor or out of favor with particular SEO link building techniques.

One thing is constant, language and since search engines are to a great extent based on information retrieval and assessment, the stronger the grasp of language and the cues you use as signals impart an imprint to search engines that identify what your site is about.

In layman’s terms, (1) create topical pools of quality content if applicable or attract quality links from websites that are ranking for the key phrases you are targeting (2) build your own internal link reputation (much like Wikipedia) by linking to yourself when applicable when there is a co-occurrence of keywords (3) look for linking opportunities but more importantly make your content link worthy and our target audience will find you once the word gets out (such as using a press release).

There is never a one and done method for securing a top position, it requires constant diligence and adaptation to remain flexible and fluid to accommodate change. By working with some of the ethical formats of the methods above, it is still possible to make a tremendous impact while really driving home your message with frequent updates by adding quality content to stay buoyant in search engines (in addition to building quality links).

Jeffrey Smith is an active internet marketing optimization strategist, consultant and the founder of Seo Design Solutions Seo Company He has actively been involved in internet marketing since 1995 and brings a wealth of collective experiences and fresh marketing strategies to individuals involved in online business.